Finally in our tour of the ATTiC model for business and career influence we come to C – context. Context may include what is happened recently or what is happening right now around you. Something that an entrepreneur seeking for success should take into account.

What other people are doing matters in business and career influencing

Most compelling in business and career influencing strategies is what other people are doing since we all have a natural tendency to make sense of the world based on how others react to it. If for example you hear an uncertain sound while you’re walking through a store, you’ll look around. If no one else seems concerned you will conclude that all is well and continue on your way.

One of the most classic psychology experiments of the 20th century regarding influence in business and career context and useful for entrepreneurs was conducted by Solomon Asch at Swarthmore College. The paradigm for Asch’s study was simple, a participant was brought into a room with a number of research confederates. He was told he was participating in a study of visual acuity.

Two large cards were shown to the group, on one card was a single line the target line, the other card was a set of three lines of varying length. Each person in the room was then asked which of the three lines on this card matches the target line on that card. The experimenter always began with the research confederates asking each to report which line matched.

Three is a magic number when influencing with success in a business context

This is why this is important for fro your business, your career or if you are an entrepreneur, and this is where things got interesting: in some cases all the confederates reported the correct answer, but in other cases they deliberately gave the wrong answer. So what did participants do when everyone stated out loud an opinion, that disagreed with what their own eyes were telling them?

When the majority in the room claimed the wrong line matched, one third of the participants would go along and also state out loud the incorrect answer, that means that one third look carefully and reported with success something they knew to be false, just to agree with others in the room – that’s the power of context. In another set of studies conducted by Ash he varied the number of experimental confederates who identified the wrong line.

When only one confederate stated an incorrect line, the number of errors made by subjects was quite low. The subject’s error rate increased when two confederates identify the wrong line and then got even higher when three gave an incorrect answer. That further increases for five and six added a little to error rate, but not much. So it seems that three is a magic number.

Three people produce a tiger or bring an entrepreneur’s success

There is a Chinese phrase that might prove a useful starting point in business and career influencing. “Three people produce a tiger” this is ancient wisdom that captures what Asch discovered in his influence studies. The parable behind the saying goes a bit like this: the state official Pang Kong worried that people would slander him and ruin his favor with the King.

To prevent this he asked the king to imagine a scenario: suppose King that a peasant came to you and reported that a tiger was roaming the busy streets of the market, would you believe him? The king of course said there was no way he would believe the tiger would never wander out of the forest into a crowded market.

Pang Kong continued: what if two peasants reported seeing the tiger? the king said he would begin to wonder, but would not believe. Pang Kong then asked what if three people say they saw the tiger? the king replied that in this case he would believe. Pang Kong gently reminded the king that the notion of a live tiger in a crowded market was absurd, yet when repeated by numerous people it began to seem real.

It is clear there is no tiger in the market ping-pong would say yet three people saying so produces a tiger. Why should the king believe something so unlikely? Of course what happened in this story was that Pang Kong, was talked about badly: after he left, he king refused to ever see him again. Was the king correct to listen to the slanderous talk was the official wise in warning against?

It it’s hard to know, but the saying three people produce a tiger makes clear the natural process that occurs when we are influenced to conform to a crowd opinion.